The people here [Champagne, France] were ill clothed, and looked ill, and I observed the women performing the heavy labours of husbandry; an unequivocal proof of extreme poverty. In Burgundy and Beaujolois they do only light work in the feilds, being principally occupied within doors. In these counties they were well clothed and appeared to be well fed.
To William Short, March 15, 1787
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sensitive leaders look for clues to people’s well-being.
Jefferson was reporting to his personal secretary in Paris. He was two weeks into a three month tour that would take him through France and parts of Italy. The surface reason may have been to visit the healing hot water springs at Aix, to soothe the broken and poorly set wrist he suffered a few months earlier. The water’s healing effects availed little, yet Jefferson inquired about everything as he went.
Here, he contrasted two regions of France, one poor and one prosperous.
– In Champagne, people were “ill clothed and looked ill,” obvious malnutrition. Women did heavy, outdoor work, probably the same farm work as men. That was an undeniable sign of “extreme poverty” that afflicted all but the privileged classes
– In Burgandy and Beaujolois, however, people were “well clothed and appeared to be well fed,” presumably healthy. Women’s work was mostly indoors, domestic tasks, with “only light work in the fields.” Economic prosperity required heavy physical work from the men only while protecting the women from that fate.